Planning to Blow Off That Flu Shot? Think Again

It's flu shot season again (photo by Getty)

Just thinking about getting a flu shot makes my arm sore. Receiving an influenza vaccination isn't pleasant, and its not 100 percent effective, but the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and infectious-disease experts recommend that everyone over 6 months old get one, with only a few exceptions. And now is the time. "This is absolutely the best time to get your vaccination," Andrew Pekosz, PhD, associate professor of microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine tells Yahoo Shine. It takes about two weeks for the body to develop maximum immunity, and he warns, "We've already seen cases positively diagnosed."

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This year, there are many vaccine options, some of which are available for the first time. The variety can be confusing, and the CDC isn't recommending one particular vaccine, but that's not a reason to avoid getting vaccinated. "Go to your health care provider," William Schaffner, MD, professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University, tells Yahoo Shine, "and get what they are offering. If you put it off, you may not get vaccinated at all." Schaffner points out that even if you are young and healthy and have never experienced a serious bout of flu, you aren't only protecting yourself; you are protecting others, who may be more vulnerable and at greater risk of severe illness.

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Pekosz agrees. "The flu vaccine is many, many times safer than getting the flu. Why would you submit yourself and others to the disease if you don't have to?" As for ducking the shot because you believe you have a strong immune system, that's not a good reason either, he says. "Most people aren't as healthy as they think."

If you go to your doctor or a clinic and do have a choice of vaccines, here are the current options:

Standard-dose trivalent shot. Trivalent shots protect against three strains of flu. This one is the most common vaccine and is appropriate for most populations. It's manufactured in eggs, so if you are allergic to eggs, you should avoid it.

Standard-dose trivalent shot grown in cell culture. This one is approved for people over 18, and Schaffner says it's OK for those who have mild allergies to eggs, even though it contains a minute amount of egg protein.

Standard-dose egg-free trivalent shot. New this year, this shot is the best choice if you are between 18 and 49 and allergic to eggs. And, says Pekosz, if you have been avoiding getting vaccinated because of allergies, this is a good one to seek out.

Standard-dose intradermal trivalent shot. If you are looking for a less painful shot (um, who isn't?), this vaccine is administered under the skin, not into the muscle, with a smaller needle. It's approved for people 18 to 64 years old.

High-dose trivalent shot. This option is recommended for people 65 years and up. Older people with less robust immune systems don't develop antibodies as easily. "A preliminary review indicates that it provides 25 percent better protection," says Schaffner, "and it's covered by Medicare." However, if you are a senior and can't locate a high-dose shot, Schaffner says a lower-dose vaccine will still offer some degree of protection and can lessen symptoms if you do get the flu.

Standard-dose quadrivalent shot. This shot is also new this year and protects against four types of flu – two A strains and two B strains (the trivalent protects against only one B strain). "This is the best option for virtually everybody in the population," says Pelosz. He explains that we tend to be more concerned about influenza A, but influenza B can cause severe illness in children, especially those who are exposed to the flu virus for the first time.

Standard-dose quadrivalent nasal spray. This year, the nasal vaccine is available only in quadrivalent form. This is an excellent choice for children because it offers broad protection and doesn't involve a needle. However, it's not approved for children who have experienced respiratory problems in the past because it can trigger wheezing.

The CDC stresses that it is particularly important for certain populations to be vaccinated. These include people with medical conditions such as asthma and diabetes, pregnant women, children under 5, health care professionals, and household caregivers. Although children under 6 months old can't get a flu vaccine via either shot or spray, because the vaccines haven't been properly studied for use in babies, they will receive some protection if their mothers were vaccinated when they were pregnant. More detailed information on who should be vaccinated is available on the CDC website.

And yes, there some people who should avoid being vaccinated—in particular, those who have been diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which is a rare paralytic illness. People who are suffering from severe coldlike symptoms accompanied by fever should delay getting inoculated until they are feeling better, since another virus can suppress the immune response to the vaccine. However, "sniffles aren't a contraindication," says Schaffner.

If you don't know where to get vaccinated, the American Lung Foundation provides a convenient flu-shot finder on its website. Just plug in your zip code and it will list the nearest locations. No more excuses!

Also on Yahoo Shine:

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